Gonzaga assistant coach Michaelson paid his dues
Through eye contact, a gesture or just familiarity, basketball teammates occasionally communicate on the court without saying a word.
Sometimes the same thing happens in administrative offices.
When Ray Giacoletti left Gonzaga’s coaching staff in late March to take the head coaching job at Drake, there wasn’t much that needed to be said between head coach Mark Few and then-assistant director of basketball operations Brian Michaelson.
It was evident Michaelson wanted to fill Giacoletti’s shoes, but he didn’t mount a campaign to lobby Few. The coach, in turn, didn’t need to conduct a sit-down interview. He knew Michaelson’s qualifications from his five-year playing career at Gonzaga and his five years handling smaller roles on the basketball staff.
“It was just the right thing to do,” Few said. “He’s put his time in, just like I put my time in and Tommy (Lloyd) put his time in and Donny (Daniels) back in the day put his time in. You need to reward somebody like that.
“He has as good a feel for what we do on a day-to-day basis as anybody.”
Michaelson’s ascension to full-time assistant basically makes him the oldest newest member of the staff. He’s been around GU longer than Daniels, who is in his fourth year, and, counting his playing career, he’s not far behind Lloyd’s 13 seasons on campus.
Michaelson, 32, knows all about waiting for an opportunity to arise. He arrived at Gonzaga as a walk-on from Portland’s Jesuit High – the same school that produced Mike Hart and current Zag Kyle Wiltjer. Michaelson graduated from Gonzaga in 2005 and roughly a month later landed a job in real estate development.
After a few profitable years, the real estate market began to struggle and Michaelson considered a career change.
“Gonzaga is obviously a place that has been very special to me. My wife went here, my wife Sarah was working for GU in 2008,” said Michaelson, whose wife played soccer for the Bulldogs. “I had stayed in contact with Tommy and he thought if I wanted to get back there was probably a good opportunity.”
Michaelson has performed just about every task possible in the last six years, much of it behind the scenes. He’s helped coordinate schedules, arranged travel and ordered equipment. He spent endless hours organizing Gonzaga’s team and individual camps, one session drawing nearly 150 teams.
“I’m not sure why I didn’t pursue coaching right away, but it was a much better decision that I didn’t,” Michaelson said. “I realized I loved basketball and missed basketball and it made it clear it was something I wanted to do.”
He still had some doubts in 2008, but his wife and parents helped convince him basketball was the right career choice.
“My dad was in private business for almost 40 years and he’s always had a little passion for coaching so there was a little extra support,” Michaelson said. “In a lot of ways, my wife believed in the change more than I did. She told me, ‘If you follow your heart, it’s all going to work out the way it’s meant to be.’ ”
As a first-year assistant, Michaelson’s duties have shifted toward practice and game planning, scouting, recruiting and player development. He had limited experience recruiting, so he leaned on the other assistants for advice.
“It’s been wonderful. I feel like I’m back home,” he said. “I like working with the guys on a daily basis and seeing them get better. Because of the quality of kids we have they’re fun to be around.”
Few noted that Michaelson did an excellent job when Wiltjer was deciding to transfer from Kentucky.
“He just knew all the people involved,” Few said. “But that was in no way the reason he was promoted.”
Few said there were plenty of reasons for promoting Michaelson.
“He’s very bright, organized,” the coach said. “Some of those guys that are really organized have no feel. Brian can see things, whether on the floor or in recruiting and make good judgments.”